My friend Linda Neiberg was a close friend of Rachel Wetzsteon, and I asked her to write something about Rachel. Linda is a Renaissance scholar and a Renaissance woman, someone I admire greatly. Thank you Linda! It's a wonderful piece.
Remembering Rachel Wetzsteon
In the week-and-a-half since my friend Rachel Wetzsteon was discovered dead in her apartment, my feelings have been many and varied. There is, of course, the surreal and deep sense of loss. I have many memories of her, one of which is the keen interest she took in the lives of people around her. She had such a wonderful bond with her former partner’s son. They would talk for hours, often while passing a sheet of paper back and forth on which they took turns drawing the head, arms, midsection, and legs of being – postmodern blazons born in two very creative, connected minds.
About four years ago, my partner told me that his best friend had met this really incredible woman – brilliant, pretty, and already marvelously successful. I was excited about meeting Rachel, but a bit nervous about meeting her since she was already a luminary and I was still a green apple in graduate school. Rachel’s easy and utterly unpretentious manner dissolved my nervousness and sparked my immediate and abiding like and admiration for her. One of my most vivid memories of her is from the summer of 2006. We had all gathered at the home of my partner in Westerly, RI and spent some gorgeous days on Watch Hill Beach. It was August and I was queasy about the classes I was going to teach…And then I saw Rachel in the waves, laughing and chilling out. That was inspiring. On that day, she also helped my friend Louise and me create a labyrinth out of seaweed. We walked in and out of it and were amused as strangers came up to us and did likewise.
Rachel also passionately supported my friend Jason Schneiderman and me when we put together our “Talking Trash” conference at The Grad Center a couple of years ago. She loved the theme and took time out from her busy schedule to attend part of the conference. Her support really made a difference! She bolstered my mind and spirit each time she assured me, “Of course, you are going to pass your orals!” And was able to muster genuine joy when I did just that – even as her own pain was beginning to weigh her down.
I shall miss sharing the awkward drafts of my dissertation with her. Selfishly, I had imagined her enthusiastic words of encouragement and her sharing in the celebration of my graduation (yes, I plan to do that sometime soon). I admired and envied her focus – and am still trying to channel it. Her last book of poems, Silver Roses, will be published this year by Persea Press. Few people in academia can master both erudite, scholarly prose and creative verse. Rachel was one of those few. I knew her for only a few brief years, but in those years, Rachel touched my life in some truly special ways.